1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Church
CHURCH (according to most authorities derived from the Gr. κυριακὸν [δῶμα], “the Lord’s [house],” and common to many Teutonic, Slavonic and other languages under various forms—Scottish kirk, Ger. Kirche, Swed. kirka, Dan. kirke, Russ. tserkov, Bulg. cerkova, Czech cirkev, Finn, kirkko, &c.), a word originally applied to the building used for Christian worship, and subsequently extended to the Christian community (ecclesia) itself. Similarly the Greek word ecclesia (ἐκκλησία), “assembly,” was very early transferred from the community to the building, and is used in both senses, especially in the modern Romance and Celtic languages (e.g. Fr. église, Welsh eglwys, &c.).
(1) Church Architecture.—From the strictly architectural point of view the subject of church building, including the development of the various styles and the essential features of the construction and arrangement of churches, is dealt with elsewhere (see Architecture; Abbey; Basilica). It is, however, impossible to understand the development of church architecture without realizing its intimate connexion with that of the doctrine, organization and ritual of the Christian Church as a religious community, and a brief sketch of this connexion may be given here by way of introduction to the more technical treatment of the subject. In general it may be said of church architecture, more truly than of any other, that artistically it is “frozen music.” It is true that at all times churches have been put to secular uses; in periods of unrest, as among the Nestorian Christians now, they were sometimes built to serve at need as fortresses; their towers were used for beacons, their naves for meetings on secular affairs. But as a rule, and especially in the great periods of church architecture, their builders were untrammelled by any utilitarian considerations; they built for the glory of God, for their own glory perhaps, in honour of the saints; and their work, where it survives, is (as it were) a petrification of their beliefs and ideals. This is, of course, more true of the middle ages than of the times that preceded and followed them; the Church under the Roman empire hardly as yet realized the possibilities of “sermons in stones,” and took over, with little change, the model of the secular and religious buildings of pagan Rome; the Renaissance, essentially a neo-pagan movement, introduced disturbing factors from outside, and, though developing a style very characteristic of the age that produced it, started that archaeological movement which has tended in modern times to substitute mere imitations of old models for any attempt to express in church architecture the religious spirit of the age.
The earliest type of Christian Church, out of which the others developed, was the basilica. The Church, emerging in the 4th century into imperial favour, and established as part of the organization of the Roman empire, simply adopted that type of secular official building which she found convenient for her purposes. The clergy, now Roman officials, vested in the robes of the civil dignitaries (see Vestments), took their seats in the apse of the basilica where the magistrates were wont to sit, in front of them the holy table, facing the congregation. The cancelli, the lattice or bar, which in the civil tribunal had divided the court from the litigants and the public, now served to separate clergy and laity. This arrangement still survives in some of the ancient churches of Rome; it has been revived in many Protestant places of worship. It symbolized principally an official distinction; but with the theocratizing of the empire in the East and its decay in the West the accentuation of the mystic powers of the clergy led to a more complete separation from the laity, a tendency which left its mark on the arrangements of the churches. In the East the cancelli, under the influence possibly of the ritual of the Jewish temple, developed into the iconostasis, the screen of holy pictures, behind the closed doors of which the supreme act of the eucharistic mystery is hidden from the lay people. In the West the high altar was moved to the east end (the presbyterium) with a space before it for the assisting deacons andsubdeacons (the chancel proper) railed off as a spot peculiarly holy (now usually called the sanctuary); between this and the nave, where the laity were, was the choir, with seats for the clergy on either side. The whole of this space (sanctuary and choir) came to be known as the “chancel.” This was divided from the nave, sometimes by an arch forming part of the structure of the building, sometimes by a screen, or by steps, sometimes by all three (see Chancel). The division of churches into chancel and nave, the outcome of the sacramental and sacerdotal spirit of the Catholic Church, may be taken as generally typical of church construction in the medieval West, though there were exceptions, e.g. the round churches of the Templars. There were, however, further changes, the result partly of doctrinal developments, partly of that passion for symbolism which by the 13th century had completed the evolution of the Catholic ritual. Transepts were added, to give to the ground-plan of the building the figure of the cross. The insistence on the unique efficacy of the sacrifice of the altar led to the multiplication of masses, and so of altars, which were placed in the transepts or aisles or in chapels, dedicated to the saints whose relics they enshrined. The chief of these subsidiary chapels, that of the Blessed Virgin (or Lady chapel), behind the high altar, was often of large size. Finally, for the convenience of processions, the nave and chancel aisles were carried round behind the high altar as ambulatories.
The Romanesque churches, still reminiscent of antique models, had preserved all the simplicity of the ancient basilicas with much more than their grandeur; but the taste for religious symbolism which culminated in the 13th century, and the imaginative genius of the northern peoples, transformed them into the marvellous dreams in stone of the “Gothic” period. Churches now became, in form and decoration, epitomes of the Christian scheme of salvation as the middle ages understood it. In the plan of the buildings and their decoration everything still remained subordinate to the high altar; but though on this and its surroundings ornament was most lavishly expended, the churches—wherever wealth permitted—were covered within and without with sculpture or painting: scenes from the Old and New Testaments, from the lives of saints, even from every-day life; figures of the Almighty, of Christ, of the Virgin Mother, of apostles, saints, confessors; pictures of the joys of heaven and the torments of hell; and outside, grimacing from every angle, demons and goblins, amusing enough to us but terrible to the age that set them there, visible embodiments of the evil spirits driven from within the sacred building by the efficacy of the holy rites. In considering the origins of medieval churches, moreover, it must be borne in mind that as a general rule their builders were not actuated by the motives usual in modern times, at least among Protestants. The size of churches was not determined by the needs of population but by the piety and wealth of the founders; and the same applies to their number. Often they were founded as acts of propitiation of the Almighty or of the saints, and the greater their size and splendour the more effective they were held to be for their purpose. Local rivalry, too, played a large part, one wealthy abbey building “against” another, much in the same way as modern business houses endeavour to outshine each other in the magnificence of their buildings. Of all the mixed motives that went to the evolution of church architecture in the middle ages, this rivalry in ostentation was probably the most fertile in the creation of new forms. A volume might be written on the economic effects of this locking up of vast capital in unproductive buildings. In Catholic countries (notably in Ireland) great churches are still built out of the savings of a poverty-stricken peasantry; and from this point of view the destruction of churches in the 16th century was probably a benefit to the world. This, however, is a consideration altogether alien to the Christian spirit, the aspiration of which is to lay up treasures not on earth but in heaven.
The Reformation was a fateful epoch in the history of church architecture. The substitution of the Bible for the Mass destroyed the raison d’être of churches as the middle ages had made them. Pictures and stories, carved or painted, seemed no longer necessary now that the open Bible was in the hands of the common people; they had been too often prostituted, moreover, to idolatrous uses,—and “idolatry” was the worst of blasphemies to the re-discoverers of the Old Testament. Save in some parts of Germany, where the influence of Luther saved the churches from wreck, an iconoclastic wave spread over the greater part of Western Europe, wherever the “new religion” prevailed; everywhere churches were cleared of images and reduced to the state of those described by William Harrison in his Description of England (1570), only the “pictures in glass” being suffered in some cases to survive for a while “by reason of the extreme cost of replacing them.” The structures of the churches, however, remained; and these, even in countries which departed furthest from the Catholic system, served in some measure to keep its tradition alive. Protestantism has, indeed, produced a distinctive church architecture, i.e. the conventicle type, favoured more especially by the so-called “Free Churches.” Its distinctive features are pulpit and auditorium, and it is symbolical of the complete equality of ministers and congregation. In general, however, Protestant builders have been content to preserve or to adapt the traditional models. It would be interesting in this connexion to trace the reverse effect of church architecture upon church doctrine. In England, for instance, the chancels were for the most part disused after the Reformation (see Harrison, op. cit.), but presently they came into use again, and on the Catholic revival in the Church of England in the 19th century it is certain that the medieval churches exercised an influence by giving a sense of fitness, which might otherwise have been lacking, to the restoration of medieval ritual. A similar tendency has of late years been displayed in the Established Church of Scotland.
Churches, as the outcome of the organization of the Catholic Church, are divided into classes as “cathedral,” “conventual” and “collegiate,” “parochial” and “district” churches. It must be noted, however, that the term cathedral (q.v.), ecclesiastically applicable to any church which happens to be a bishop’s see, architecturally connotes a certain size and dignity, and is sometimes applied to churches which have never been, or have long ceased to be, bishop’s seats. (W. A. P.)
(2) The Religious Community.—In the sense of Christian community (ecclesia) the word “Church” is applied in a narrow sense to any one of the numerous separate organizations into which Christendom is divided (e.g. Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Eastern Church, Church of England, Evangelical [Lutheran] Church)—these are dealt with under their several headings—and in a comprehensive sense (with which we are now concerned) to the general body of all those “who profess and call themselves Christians.” Religion, according to the old definition, is the bond which binds the soul of man to God. It begins as the relation of a tribe to its God. Personal religious conviction grows out of the tribal (corporate) religious bond. But the social instinct is strong. Men owning the same religious convictions will naturally draw together into some sort of association. Using the word religion to cover all the imperfect ways in which men have felt after God, we note that in every case men have found the need alike of a teacher and of fellowship. Thus the idea of a church as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. iii. 15) corresponds to some of the primary needs of man. Even at Stonehenge, the oldest relic of prehistoric religion in England, where we picture in imagination the worship of the rising sun, nature worship degraded to a horrible depth by human sacrifice, we find struggling for expression the idea of a corporate religious life. From all the lower levels where superstition and cruelty reign, from the depths of fear inspired by fetichism, we look on to the higher level of Judaism as the progressive religion of the old world. This does not mean that we shut our eyes to the ideals of Greek philosophers, with whom morality was constantly outgrowing religion. “The vision of an ideal state which the master-mind of Plato contemplated, but thought too good ever to become true in actual realization, is full of aspirations which the Christian Church claims to satisfy. The problems of the relations of the life of the State and the life of the individual, which Aristotle ever suggests and never solves, are problems with which the Christian Church has at least attempted to deal.”
From the beginning of the history of the Jewish race the idea that the world is a kingdom under the rule of God began to find expression. The conception of Israel as “a kingdom of priests and an holy nation” (Exod. xix. 6) bore witness to it. The idea of kingship from the first was that of a ruler representing God. As time went on and even the dynasty of David failed in the persons of unworthy representatives to maintain this ideal, both psalmists and prophets taught the people to look beyond the earthly kingdom to the spiritual kingdom of which it was a type. But even Isaiah tended to think of the spiritual life and worship of the nation as a department of political organization only, controlled by the king and his princes. It was reserved for Jeremiah, in the darkest days of his life, to build up the ideal of a spiritual society which should weld Israel together, to proclaim a new covenant (xxxi. 31-34) which Jehovah would make with Israel when representatives of the previously exiled ten tribes should return with the exiles of Judah. This prophecy is instinct with the growing sense of the personal responsibility of individual men brought into communion with God. The religion of Israel from this time of the captivity ceased to be a merely national religion connected with particular forms of sacrifice in a particular land. The synagogues which traced their origin to the time of Ezekiel, when the sacrificial cultus was impossible, extended this ideal yet further. During the centuries preceding the birth of Christ there grew up an apocalyptic literature which regarded as a primary truth the conception of a kingdom of righteousness ruled over by a present God. The preaching of John the Baptist was thus in sympathy with the ideals of his generation, though the sternness of the repentance which he set forth as the necessary preparation for entrance into the new kingdom of heaven, which was to be made visible on earth, was not less repugnant to the men of his day than of later times. Christ’s own teaching and that of his disciples began with the proclamation of the kingdom of God (or of heaven) (Luke iv. 43, viii. 1, ix. 2; Matt. x. 7). That he intended it to find outward expression in a visible society appears from the careful way in which he trained the apostles to become leaders hereafter, crowning that work by the institution of the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. “It was not from accident or for convenience that Christ formed a society.” His parables even more than his sermons reveal the principles of his endeavour. But he seldom used the word ecclesia, church, which became the universal designation of his society.
All the more emphatic is Christ’s use of the term ecclesia upon the distinct advance in faith made by the apostles when St Peter as their spokesman confessed him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. xvi. 16). Instantly came the reply, “I say unto thee, that thou art Petros (rockman), and on this Petra (rock) I will build my ecclesia (church); and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” On the rock of a human character, ennobled by faith in his divine Sonship, he could raise the church of the future, which should be at the same time continuous with the old, new in spiritual power, one in worship and in work.
To the Jew the word ecclesia as used in the Septuagint suggested the assembly of the congregation of Israel. To a Greek it suggested the assembly of freeborn citizens in a city state. Without ceasing to be the congregation of Jehovah, it would claim for itself all the hopes of an ideal state over which Greek philosophers had sighed in vain.
Opinions differ upon the question whether the apostles were chosen as representatives of the ecclesia to be founded (Hort) or as men fitted to become its duly authorized teachers and leaders from the beginning (Stone). But as Mr Stone well puts it, “It would not be a necessary inference [from Dr Hort’s opinion] that there ought to be no ministry in the Christian Church.”
At first the church was limited to the Christian believers in the city of Jerusalem, then by persecution their company was broken up, and, since those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word, the conception was enlarged to include all “of the way” (Acts ix. 2) in the Holy Land. A new epoch began from the return of St Paul and St Barnabas to Antioch after their first missionary journey, when they called together the church and narrated their experiences, and told how “God had opened to the Gentiles the door of faith” (Acts xiv. 27). Hitherto the term Church had been “ideally conterminous” with the Jewish Church. Now it was to contain members who had never in any sense belonged to the Jewish Church. Thus the way was opened for new developments and for illimitable extension. St Paul, in his address to the elders at Ephesus (Acts xx. 28), adapted the words of Ps. lxxiv. 2, “Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old,” claiming for the Christian ecclesia the title of God’s ancient ecclesia. But he never, however fiercely opposed by Judaizers, set a new ecclesia of Christ in opposition to the old. We wait, however, for the Epistles of his captivity at Rome to find the full meaning of the idea of the church dawning upon his imagination. “Here at least, for the first time in the Acts and Epistles, we have the ecclesia spoken of in the sense of the one universal ecclesia, and it comes more from the theological than from the historical side; i.e. less from the actual circumstances of the actual Christian communities than from a development of thoughts respecting the place and office of the Son of God: his headship was felt to involve the unity of all those who were united to him.” Similar development of the idea of the one ecclesia as including all members of all local ecclesiae does not lead St Paul to regard membership of the universal church as invisible.
But the mere history of the word ecclesia does not exhaust the subject. We must take into account not only the idea of the visible actual church, but also the ideal pictured by St Paul in the metaphors of the Body (Rom. xii. 5), the Temple (1 Cor. iii. 10–15) and the Bride of Christ (2 Cor. xi. 2). The actual church is always falling short of its profession; but its successive reformations witness to the strength of its longing after the beauty of holiness.
Membership in the actual church is acquired through baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt, xxviii. 19). The references in the New Testament to baptism “in the name of Jesus” (or the Lord Jesus) (Acts ii. 38, viii. 16. x. 48, xix. 5; Rom. vi. 3; Gal. iii. 27), which are by some critics taken to refer to a primitive Christological baptismal formula, seem to refer to the confession made by the baptized, or to the new relationship into which they are brought as “members of Christ.” Candidates for baptism were exhorted to prepare for it by repentance and faith (Acts ii. 38). The laying on of hands (Heb. vi. 2), in the rite called in later times confirmation, followed baptism (Acts viii. 17). In the modern Greek Church it is administered by priests with oil which has been consecrated by the bishop, in the Roman Church by the bishop himself. Such use of the chrism can be traced from the 2nd century. The Anglican Church retains only the Biblical symbolism of “the blessing of the hand.” Presbyterians and other Protestant churches have abandoned the use, except the Lutherans. We need not here trace the history of Christian worship, in daily services (Acts ii. 46), or on the Lord’s Day (Acts xx. 7), meeting for the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. xi. 17-34), or for mutual edification in prayer, praise and prophecy (1 Cor. xiv.). These things represent the ideal of Christendom. In the words of an eminent Roman Catholic scholar, Monsignor Duchesne, “Faith unites, theology often separates.” It must be our task to summarize the leading ideas of the church in which all Christians are agreed.
(a) The first is certainly fellowship with Christ and with the brethren. The early Christians earnestly believed that their life was “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. iii. 3), and found in their union with Christ the lasting and strongest motive of love to the brethren. Such fellowship is attributed by St Paul pre-eminently to the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. xiii. 14). Its strength is shown in England in the growing readiness of the different religious bodies to co-operate in movements for the purifying of public morality and for the better observance of Sunday.
(b) The second is unity. We have seen how St. Paul was led on to grasp the conception of one church universal manifested in all the local churches. Its unity is not purely accidental in that individuals have been forced to act together under pressure of chance circumstances. Nor is the ideal of unity adopted simply because experience teaches that “union is strength.” Nor is it even based on the philosophical conception of the incompleteness of the individual life. As Dr Sanday finely says, “If the church is in something more than mere metaphor the Body of Christ, if there is circulating through it a continual flow and return of spiritual forces, derived directly from him, if the Spirit which animates the Body is one, then the Body itself also must be in essence one. It has its centre not on earth but in heavenly places, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.”
(c) Thirdly, there is no question that the Lord intended the one fellowship of his saints to be a visible fellowship. The idea of an invisible church has only commended itself in dark hours when men despaired of unity even as an ideal. The view of Zwingli and Calvin in the 16th century was not by any means acceptable to other reformers. Luther distinguished between the Spiritual Church, which he identified with the Communion of Saints, and the Corporeal Church, the outward marks of which are Baptism, Sacrament and Gospel. But he regarded them as different aspects of the same church, and Melanchthon was even more explicit. As the saint purified in heaven is he who struggled with his sins on earth, so is the church triumphant one with the church militant. In Dr Lindsay’s words, “it is one of the privileges of faith, when strengthened by hope and by love, to see the glorious ideal in the somewhat poor material reality. It was thus that St Paul saw the universal Church of Christ made visible in the Christian community of Corinth.”
But it is at this point that we come to the dividing line which has been drawn by different conceptions of catholicity. Dr Lindsay goes on to argue that all insistence on the principle of historical continuity, whether urged by members of the Anglican or the Roman Catholic Church, as upholders of episcopacy, is a deliberate return to the principle of Judaism, which declared that no one who was outside the circle of the “circumcised,” no matter how strong his faith nor how the fruits of the Spirit were manifest in his life and deeds, could plead “the security of the Divine Covenant.” Without entering into controversy it must suffice to point out that, from the point of view of all episcopal churches, the ministry of the bishops succeeding the ministry of the apostles, however it came to pass, was for fifteen centuries accepted as the pledge of unity. This principle, however, of continuity in ministry, belongs to a different department of Christian thought from the sacrament of baptism, which really corresponds to the Jewish rites of admission to the covenant. And it has been an established principle of the undivided church since the 3rd century, the bishop of Rome in this case upholding against St Cyprian the view which subsequent generations have ratified as Catholic truth, that baptism by whomsoever administered is valid if water is used with the right words. From this point, alas, divergence begins.
(d) The fourth element is authority. Probably all Christians can agree in the statement that the Christian democracy is also a theocracy, that Christ is the source of all authority. There are three passages in the Gospel which claim notice: (i.) the promise to St Peter (Matt. xvi. 18f), as spokesman for the apostles, of the key of the household of God, of power to admit and exclude; (ii.) the promise (Matt. xviii. 15-20) probably given to the Twelve, regarding offences against the peace of the society, advocating exclusion only when brotherly appeals had failed; (iii.) the commission of the whole ecclesia or of the Christian ministry (John xx. 22, 23). Again the root difference between the Presbyterian and Episcopalian conceptions of the church comes to light. Is the authority of the church manifested in the decisions which a local church arrives at by a majority of votes, or in the decisions of apostles and prophets after taking counsel, of the episcopate in later times, ratified by common consent of Christendom? As has been well said, “the church is primarily a witness—the strength of its authority lies in the many sides from which the witness comes.” It witnesses to the Divine Life of Christ as a power of the present and of the future as of the past, ministered in the Word and sacraments.
(e) The church is a sacerdotal society. St Paul delighted to represent it as the “ideal Israel,” and St John echoes the thought in the words of praise (Rev. i. 5, 6), “Unto him that hath loved us . . . and made us to be a kingdom, and priests unto his God and Father.” This idea of the priesthood of the whole church has three elements—the divine element, the human element and self-sacrifice. The promise that Christians should be temples of the living God has been fulfilled. As Dr Milligan has said very well, “It is not only in things to which we commonly confine the word miracle that the Divine appears. It may appear not less in the whole tone and spirit of the Church’s life, in the varied Christian virtues of her members, in the general character of their Christian work, and in the grace received by them in the Christian sacraments. When that life is exhibited, as it ought to be, in its distinctively heavenly character, it bears witness to the presence of a power in Christian men which no mere recollection of a past example, however heroic or beautiful, can supply. The difficulties of exhibiting and maintaining it are probably far greater now than they were in the apostolic age; and as nothing but a present divine support can enable us to overcome these, so, when they are overcome, a testimony is given to the fact that God is with us.”
But this life is to be a human life still, to be in touch with all that is noble and of good report in art and literature, keenly interested in all the discoveries of science, active in all movements of social progress. It cannot, however, be denied that to live such a life, divine in its powers and human in its sympathies, demands daily and hourly self-sacrifice. As the author of the Imitation of Christ put it long ago, “There is no living in love without pain.” The thought of self-sacrifice has been emphasized from the earliest times in the liturgies. By a true instinct the early Christian writers called widows and orphans the altar of God on which the sacrifices of almsgiving are offered up. Such works of charity, however, represent only one of the channels by which self-sacrifice is ministered, to which all prayers and thanksgiving and instruction of psalms, prophecy and preaching contribute. Thus in the Eucharist the offering of the church is made one with the offering of the Great High Priest.
All this represents an ideal. It suggests in a modern form the perpetual paradox of the Christian life: we are what we are to be. The church is the divine society in which all other religious associations are eventually to find their home. The prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” embraces all spiritual forces which make for righteousness. They were acknowledged in Christ’s words, “He that is not against you is for you” (Luke ix. 50). But the divisions of Christendom testify to the harm done by undue insistence on the claims of the individual to gain scope to extend the kingdom in his own way. As in a choir all the resources of an individual voice are used to strengthen the general effect, so must the individual lose his life that he may find it, witnessing by his share in the common service of the church to the ultimate unity of knowledge and harmony of truth.
- Lactantius, Inst. Div. iv. 28 “Vinculo pietatis obstricti, Deo religati sumus unde ipsa religio nomen accepit.” The etymology may be wrong, but this is the popular sense of the word.
- Darwell Stone, The Christian Church, p. 18.
- Ecce Homo, ed. 5, p. 87. Cf. the interesting comparison between Socrates and Christ.
- Op. cit. p. 262.
- Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, p. 148.
- For a full defence of the authenticity of Matt. xxviii. 19 see Riggenbach, Der trinitarische Taufbefehl (Gütersloh, 1903).
- The Conception of Priesthood, p. 13.
- The Conception of Priesthood, p. 29.
- Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries, p. 17.
- The Ascension, p. 254.
- Polycarp, Phil. 4; cf. Tertullian, Ad Uxor, i. 7.
- This teaching is not confined to Episcopalian writers. It has been finely expressed from the Presbyterian standpoint by Dr Milligan, op. cit. p. 265 ff.; cf. Lindsay, p. 37.